You’ve seen the bumper stickers from time to time, “Free Leonard Peltier” and similar cries for justice for various political and economic prisoners from around the world.
Today, after reading this blog entry and the attendant article, I’m tempted to make my own bumper stickers.
I think it’s time for us as teachers to RECALL THE MEDIEVAL SEVEN!
The Seven Liberal Arts, that is:
- Grammar (Update — 12/1/2011 — linked to post about recent efforts at teaching grammar)
- Rhetoric (Update — 12/2/2011 — linked to post about recent efforts at teaching rhetoric)
Because really… all sorts of people are telling us, regularly, that these these things are elemental. Our students know how to read and write, sure. But they also need to know how to reason, how to work with advanced mathematics (in both the equational  sense, and in the spatial  sense shown above), and they also need the real-world applications of that grammar, logic, and mathematical thinking as expressed in music and astronomy.
People will throw their hands up in dismay, and say, “oh, really, Andrew… you can’t expect us to go back to a medieval educational paradigm just because you’re making a (bad) joke.” But no, really. What is software programming but grammar and logic? What is geography but geometry and astronomy? What is literature and history and even science but arithmetic and logic?
There’s a reason this was the basis of the medieval curriculum. It worked. It instructed students in how to look at the world, and to deduce universal truths from certain premises. Aside from a degree of blindness to issues where God was concerned, the medieval curriculum was an astonishingly good way to preserve what could be preserved of classical literature, and prep the world for the Renaissance.
Don’t believe me? You should have seen way the medieval Church condemned the reading of Aristotle after the death of Thomas Aquinas. There was a widespread recognition that Aristotle’s logic could blow the socks off of the usual arguments about God — because the medieval academics were honest enough to apply the seven liberal arts effectively to the texts of the rediscovered Greek.
Renaissance scholars, in a more tolerant environment three hundred years later, applied the same seven tools of scholarship to the writings of even more dead Romans and Greeks when their works started to re-emerge from old libraries and hit the new printing presses.
The Seven Liberal Arts was a mindset that could be applied to any information set, and I think it could be adapted to the modern curriculum of connectedness, collaboration and community.
We already know its creative powers. Music, astronomy and geometry? At least the artwork would be beautiful.